Dear Young Parliamentarians
Firstly, I must congratulate you all for making it into the 6th parliament. We were starting to think that parliament is a glorified retirement home.
Secondly, it would be remiss of me to not speak of the mammoth task ahead of you all. One thing I want to address before anything is the issue of what is referred to as the Sankara Oath. For those of you who are not familiar with Sankara, allow me to put a few lines on him. Thomas Sankara was the president of a country called Burkina Faso in this continent from 1983 to 1987. He is one of the shining lights in how parliamentary power and privilege can be used to change the socio-economic situation of the people on the ground.
generated a food surplus in a country with an economy smaller than ours, he got rid of backward customs that oppressed women and he kick-started a massive nationwide literacy campaign that resulted in increases in literacy rates. What eternally endeared him with the masses was his desire to see public servants leading a normal life like normal citizens. It is said that he went to work in a bicycle sometimes and worked hard to keep a corrupt free cabinet.
In this vein, my view is that things like the Ministerial Handbook must go. It is an affront to young black people at the receiving end of unemployment, racial inequality and economic exclusion. Can public servants like yourselves use public services to inspire change in the different sectors (health care, transport, housing etc.)? We must think of this in terms of African custom which says, if I make umqombothi for a ceremony and I intend to serve it to the masses, I must drink first to make sure it's good for everyone. In the same vein, why can't parliamentarians use public services in order for them to improve owing to their status as public servants? Is that impossible?
Now that we are done with issues of servant leadership, let's move to what the youth have been agitating for, for years.
In 2015, we dodged bullets, got injured and saw prison as part of the #FeesMustFall protests which were calling for free decolonised education. Some of us even went further to say we want free education from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to the first degree. After a sustained push from the student movement, Former President Jacob Zuma announced free education. To our surprise, when we arrived back on campuses the following year, we were still subjected to a stubborn layer of reactionary administration that blocked the policy deliberately and further the judiciary has now criminalised us. Today, Bonginkosi Khanyile serves three years under house arrest, Khaya Cekeshe serves an eight-year prison sentence, amongst others who are either still on trial, or have already received sentences and thus criminal records.
Can you, Fallists and young parliamentarians, assist to intensify the roll out of free education, decriminalization of those who fought for the noble struggle, and equally ensure no black child falls through the cracks?
Equally, the issues of land has nationwide consensus. Can it be expedited? No more commissions and long policy discussions on the feasibility of land return. Black people are land hungry and need the land pronto. No politicking is needed, just the roll out of land expropriation without compensation! Can this be prioritised?
The issue of youth unemployment is also another one which can't wait. We want you to put pressure on the president and his cabinet. It can't be correct that black youth in the best years of their lives are excluded from the economy and remain languishing in the townships getting high on nyaope, while their white counterparts live comfortably and are shielded and absorbed into the workforce. A living wage is needed. Young black men and women can't be called "grootman" or “sisteri” at home, but they struggle to even buy themselves roll-ons and sanitary products. That is degrading. The 6th parliament must mean an end to young black people being degraded and humiliated.
Moreover, with the likes of Penny Sparrow, Vicky Momberg as well as Adam Kantzavelos still roaming among us, can the issue of the criminalisation of racism be pushed with seriousness and ideological clarity.
The law on racism must not fall into what the black existentialist author, Lewis R Gordon, calls "equal opportunity racism", wherein every race has an equal opportunity to be racist. This way of looking at the problem when tied with legislation will summarily abuse the victims of racism – black people. The position must be that blacks can't be racist owing to an understanding that racism is a historically evolved social issue which is governed by power relations. In that case, blacks can't be racist because they don't possess (and have never possessed) the societal power to be racist to whites and each other.
The fight for youth representation in parliament was not to replicate the bureaucratic, stale soliloquy of the aged, but rather to see a fresh energetic layer of leadership who would cut through the bureaucracy which keeps us poor, undereducated and landless, and take the fight to the chambers of parliament so to see material gains for our people.
Below are five basic demands which must be met in 6 months, if we are to believe that you have not sold out the youth:
1) Embrace Sankara: You and your family must use public services, including healthcare and education. What’s good for the people is good for the politician.
2) Land Now! No new motions until implementation of land expropriation without compensation. All stolen land in the hands of the white minority must be expropriated (not only state-owned land).
3) Release political prisoners: All political prisoners, including those arrested for the fight for free education must be released now!
4) Jobs for all graduates: Failing which government must pay equitable industry related wages until a graduate is placed in a quality job.
5) Free training for ALL unemployed: Train the unemployed for work and pay all a living wage. Nobody must be outcasts from society, skills to build the society and a wage to sustain the society must be provided.
Failing to implement the above within 6 months will force the mobilisation of the youth to come to parliament and demand answers from you! Most importantly, we won't go to ministers, you must account because we the youth have sent you to the 6th parliament.
*Ncedisa Mpemnyama is BLF Secretary for Political Education, Policy and Research. Member of Black Peoples National Crisis Committee.